The Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security

Major General (res.) Yaakov Amidror

Major General (res.) Yaakov Amidror

General Amidror: The strike calms fears in Israel about the United States’ willingness to act in the region.

 The New York Times, 04.01.2020

For years, he was a distant adversary, overseeing attacks on Israeli and Jewish targets abroad. But as time went on, the threat from Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani loomed ever larger and closer for Israel.

So the assassination of the Iranian commander in an American drone strike in Baghdad early Friday was greeted with satisfaction in Israel, though also with a degree of caution as the country went on alert for possible retaliation.

General Suleimani, who led the Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, oversaw an Iranian program to surround Israel with tens of thousands of missiles, according to experts.

He was also the architect of Iran’s recent entrenchment in Syria and of an ambitious plan to build an Iranian front against Israel across its northern frontier, in the Golan Heights.

After a decades-old shadow war between Israel and Iran fought mostly through proxies or clandestine means, the new proximity brought the arch foes to direct blows.

Amid the heightened tensions, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel cut short an official visit to Greece and returned home on Friday afternoon, while his ministers mostly kept a low profile in an apparent effort to avoid undue Iranian attention.

Before boarding a plane home, Mr. Netanyahu praised President Trump for “acting swiftly, forcefully and decisively.”

“Israel stands with the United States in its just struggle for peace, security and self-defense,” he said.

Israel’s recently appointed defense minister, Naftali Bennett, held consultations at military headquarters in Tel Aviv and released a photograph of the meeting that showed the participants — the military chief of staff, the Mossad chief and other security officials — perhaps to demonstrate readiness and create deterrence.

As a precaution early Friday, the Israeli military announced the closing of a ski run in the Israeli-controlled portion of the northern Golan Heights that borders Syria.

The heightened tensions come at a delicate time for Israel, after two inconclusive elections in April and September failed to produce a new government, and with a third vote set for March 2. The latest events have most likely provided a welcome distraction for Mr. Netanyahu.

Though strong on security and hawkish on Iran, he was indicted in November in three corruption cases and is fighting for his survival. Before the American strike on Friday, the Israeli discourse was dominated by Mr. Netanyahu’s contentious request this week for parliamentary immunity from prosecution.

Still, Israeli opposition politicians lined up behind the embattled prime minister, praising Mr. Trump for his decision to take military action.

Benny Gantz, a former military chief and now Mr. Netanyahu’s main political rival, said that in matters of state security, there was no opposition to the government.

In a statement, he described the assassination of General Suleimani as “the appropriate response to anyone responsible for the murder of countless innocent people and for undermining global stability.”

General Suleimani’s net around Israel spread from the Hezbollah strongholds in Lebanon to the Palestinian coastal territory of Gaza, where he provided support to Hamas and was the main patron of Islamic Jihad.

Hamas, the larger Islamic militant group that controls Gaza, offered its condolences to Iran, saying in a statement that General Suleimani had “played a major and critical role in supporting Palestinian resistance at all levels.” Hamas condemned what it called “U.S. bullying” that it said served the interests of Israel.

Basem Naim, a spokesman for Hamas, said on Twitter that the assassination “opens the doors of the region to all possibilities, except calm & stability.”

Israeli analysts, however, suggested that the prospect that Israel would be the immediate target of Iranian retaliation was slim.

“I don’t think the Iranians are now looking to bring more enemies into the battlefield,” said Yaakov Amidror, a former Israeli national security adviser. The removal of General Suleimani was important for Israel, he said, operationally and symbolically.

“It will take the Iranians some time at least to build a replacement for him,” said Mr. Amidror, who is a fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security and the Washington-based Jewish Institute for National Security of America.

In addition, he said, the strike will have calmed fears in Israel about the United States’ willingness to act in the region.

The assassination of General Suleimani ends a long chapter in Israeli history. Ehud Yaari, an Israel-based fellow of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, noted there were Israeli intelligence officials who had spent their whole careers tracking General Suleimani, starting as rookies and ending up as generals themselves.

Israel had the opportunity to assassinate General Suleimani in the past, he said, but refrained from doing so, believing it would be seen as an act of war.

Mr. Yaari said the Trump administration had been a great friend to Israel but essentially left it to cope alone with General Suleimani’s buildup in Syria and the growing force of militant groups in Gaza.

“Now,” Mr. Yaari said, “we see an American strike against the Iranian apex.”

By Isabel Kershner, The New York Times, 04.01.2020